Tiramisu has a somewhat naff mass appeal – it’s a homely dessert that should be for everyone but the addition of raw egg, coffee and alcohol excludes children and some people from the pleasures. Bringing together two things that complete every meal – coffee and alcohol – it gives the diner the chance to indulge further without raising any suspicion.
Tiramisu has a short shelf life. Although the dessert will keep for a few days in the fridge, it deteriorates quickly. The cream starts to taste more like the fridge, or the coffee leaches from the cake layer and overpowers the whole dish. But when prepared properly, and eaten the following day, tiramisu is pure indulgence. I have to say it is one of my favourite desserts.
Sadly, though, I think I may have had more average than good tiramisu in my life. Being left too long in the fridge before being served can be problematic. The cream-to-cake ratio also needs to be correct. Too little cream mixture to biscuit sucks, and too much liquid soaked into the biscuit is not great either.
Of course, like many traditional recipes, there is dispute as to where and by whom the dessert was created. The most consistent belief is that it was created in Veneto in northern Italy in the 1950s.
Mascarpone is the key flavour here – a soft cultured cream cheese that has a distinct if subtle flavour. I find mascarpone has limited use outside of tiramisu, other than stirring a tablespoon or two into a risotto just before serving. This acts as a thickening agent and also brings a richer flavour to your risotto.
I have read recipes that add a number of different types of alcohol. Marsala is a fortified wine and is a popular choice, as is a shot of grappa, Strega or brandy. I like the simplicity of brandy, which brings a little kick without dominating the flavour of the mascarpone and coffee. Alcohol should not be the highlighted flavour here, although I have once or twice slipped when measuring the brandy. And really, who am I to judge? Knock yourself out.
This recipe is from The Saturday Paper archive.
– 500ml strong hot coffee
– 3½ tbsp brandy
– 4 tbsp castor sugar
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 whole egg
– pinch salt
– ½ cup pure cream
– 250g mascarpone, at room temperature
– 12 savoiardi (ladyfinger) biscuits
– cocoa powder
Mix the coffee, brandy and one tablespoon of the sugar in a bowl until the sugar dissolves, then set it aside.
Whisk the yolks, whole egg, salt and remaining three tablespoons of sugar in an electric mixer for about 15 minutes, until very pale and thick.
Fold the cream into the mascarpone, followed by the aerated egg mixture.
Take half the biscuits and dip them one by one into the coffee mixture. Submerge each biscuit for four to five seconds then lift it out, letting the excess coffee drip back into the bowl. Lay the biscuits in the base of your serving dish.
Spread half the mascarpone mixture evenly over the top of the biscuits, then soak the remaining biscuits and layer these on top.
Finish by spreading the other half of the mascarpone mixture over the top of the biscuits, making sure they are all covered.
Wrap with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, dust the top with a generous layer of cocoa powder.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 17, 2018 as "Catching a lift". Subscribe here.